Survey: What U.S. Veterinarians Know About Medical Hemp

A recent survey found that most veterinarians consider themselves fairly knowledgeable about the therapeutic use of marijuana in dogs, but are not comfortable discussing it with clients.

More than 2,100 certified veterinarians who are currently practicing participated in an anonymous online survey that gauged their knowledge level, views and experiences related to the use of cannabinoids in the medical treatment of dogs. Most reported that they consider themselves fairly knowledgeable about the therapeutic use of marijuana in dogs and feel the plant should be rescheduled under federal law. The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Studies.

Despite these findings, just under half of respondents (45.5%) said they felt comfortable discussing the topic of cannabis with clients. Veterinarians and clients in states with legalized recreational marijuana were more likely to talk about the use of CBD products to treat canine ailments than those in other states. In addition, recent graduates were less likely than their peers to feel comfortable talking about marijuana with dog owners. However, most veterinarians (61.5%) felt comfortable discussing the use of CBD with their colleagues.

“I think these results add support to the idea that many veterinarians are looking favorably at cannabinoids as an alternative treatment for several things including pain, seizures and anxiety,” says Dr. Lori Kogan, one of the authors of the survey report. “These results mirror what I have found in my studies looking at why dog owners (in the U.S. as well as Canada) are using these products. It is clearly a very exciting time for the field.

Pot For Pets?

Medical researchers have found that marijuana may help dogs and cats cope with arthritis, epilepsy, anxiety and a host of other ailments without the side effects of traditional drugs, but veterinarians are afraid to prescribe it for fear of running afoul of federal laws. Despite a number of U.S. states passing legislation that legalizes medical marijuana, none of them have made it legal for veterinarians to prescribe it for their animal patients.

As a result, veterinarians are reluctant to even discuss marijuana, which is illegal under federal law. Even though the survey found that client questions about cannabis were fairly common — only 8% of respondents reported that they’d never been asked about CBD products — 66% said they’d never recommended cannabidiol (CBD) for dogs, while 12% said they “sometimes” recommend them and just 5% said they “frequently” do.

The reasons given for not recommending CBD range from noting that additional research is necessary (65%) to expressing concerns about the legal status of cannabis (53%).

Maladies that Medical Marijuana Helps

The most common conditions for which CBD was either discussed or recommended were pain management, anxiety and seizures, according to the survey. The most commonly used CBD formulations were oil/extract and edibles. These were most helpful in providing analgesia for chronic and acute pain, relieving anxiety and decreasing seizure frequency/severity. The most commonly reported side-effect was sedation.

Respondents also said that their state veterinary boards and associations don’t provide sufficient guidance on the subject — including in states where cannabis is legal — and that more research on the effects of CBD in dogs is needed.

Change Ahead?

Eighty-two percent of respondents said they they do not think CBD should remain as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law; 70% said the same about marijuana overall.

“Given the positive feelings expressed by veterinarians in this study, I feel it is important for the laws to change so that veterinarians can feel free to talk to their clients about the potential for these products,” says Dr. Kogan. “The studies I have done looking at pet owners’ experiences and perceptions highlight the disturbing fact that the places they go most frequently to learn about these products are the company websites. We should work together for legislative change that would allow for the expansion of knowledge needed to best capitalize on this potential medical tool for companion animals.”

Results were analyzed based on legal status of recreational marijuana in the participants’ state of practice, and year of graduation from veterinary school.

Dr. Kogan earned her MS degree in Experimental Psychology and her PhD in Counseling Psychology,  from Colorado State University. She is a licensed psychologist and professor of clinical sciences for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. She is also the Director of Human Animal Interactions at CSU as well as the founder/director of Pets Forever, a nonprofit program and service learning course designed to help low-income elderly and disabled pet owners.

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